Analysis and background on the people’s Mojahedin organization
CHAPTER 8/Insurrection and organisation
From its experience in the popular fight against the Shah's regime, the Organisation of the People's Mojahedin of Iran esta¬blished the foundation of its action programme. The PMOI always chose insurrection, subversion and armed struggle, whether during the 1979 revolution or the break with Ayatollah Khomeini's re¬gime, which Massoud Rajavi had supported until 1981, albeit in armed opposition.
History shows that this was a constant throughout thirty years:
"On 11 June 1981, Bani Sadr went into clandestinely calling for 'resistance to despotism' without proposing any other concrete solution than a spontaneous and suicidal insurrection. The Moja¬hedin announced the creation of a political alliance with the man who was still officially President on 20 June. They called for armed struggle, but no other political movement followed. The crowd did not take to the streets and it has before when Khomeini had called for it.
On 2] June 1981, Abdolhassan Bani Sadr was fired by the Guide after 18 months. He had never really exercised power and had never begun the fight which the democrats had hoped to see.
Analysts see this date as the beginning of "a real civil war bet¬ween the Islamic regime and the People's Mojahedin commanded by Massoud Rajavi." (51)
They have never denied this civil war, despite their consistent claims of "non-violence". This description is more strategic than sincere.
"In Teheran at the end of June, the Mojahedin at last launched a Widespread terrorist campaign to destabilize a regime they felt was shaky. Too soon", reported the weekly Le Point.
The reality is that in 1981 the Iranian situation looked more like a failed coup d'etat than a second revolution.
If Bani Sadr's call for an insurrection had been taken up, or if the Mojahedin had found support for their armed operations, the scenario could have led to a clear seizure of power. This would have included the occupation of the main Government buildings, the confiscation of institutions and the arrest of the existing regi¬me's representatives.
The specialised review, L'art de la guerre (or "The Art of War") defines the conditions of a coup:
First of all, it is essential to understand the meaning of "coup d'etat". Edward Luttwak defines it as "consisting of infiltrating a cog, small, but essential, into the State's administrative machinery. The cog is then used to keep the Government from controlling anything... Two simultaneous operations must be carried out suc¬cessfully: first, imposing a new power on the governmental machi¬nery, second, using it to impose a new power on the country". (53)
As L'Express described it, "The Mojahedin are trying to push the people to insurrection by multiplying street demonstrations which quickly degenerate into armed fights. A strategic error? The Iranians are not moving at all."
And the plotters were forced to leave the country, promising to return before the end of the year. This prediction did not come true and is still a dead letter today.
"He [Rajavi] thought, as did Bani Sadr, that they were actually saving the 'Islamic Revolution'. After serving as Bani Sadr's escort, the Mojahid leader had to return to Iran through its porous borders and try to reconstitute the progressive forces. Is this a dream? As Khomeini's supporters noted, the crowd did not take to the streets to support Bani Sadr, or to protest the executions of Mojahedin," wrote Le Nouvel Observateur a few days after the two men fled. (54)
No other solution was available to the PMOI than that of ral¬lying its unconditional militants, a few thousand supporters, and declaring war.
This would be their position even if the disappointed in their own ranks were many and would grow since Rajavi rallied to the Iraqi dictatorship. The membership of the Mojahedin would melt like snow in the sunshine.
Against the backdrop of political and media lobbying in the West plus a few successful terrorist actions inside Iran, the PMOI has shown itself more than a little inclined to repeat the Pang Ossian mantra: All's for the best in all possible worlds. (55)
Many observers have noted this:
"What is more, whatever level of support that the Mojahedin enjoyed within the Iranian population, this sympathy was quickly undermined when they sought refuge in Iraq during its war with
The intensity of this hatred for the Mojahedin among ordinary Iranians was amply demonstrated during the last months of the war. The people of a small border village killed the Mojahedin soldiers who had crossed from Iraq to 'liberate them'. This was done before the Iranian forces could come to their defense." (56)
To the ultra-Left
In the framework of its revolutionary activities, the PMOI admits in its own words that it was had a certain penchant:
"The activities of the Mojahedin require secrecy and no one knows of the existence of the organisation." (57)
As can be seen in the following outline of the career of the Mojahedin, this has been their consistent doctrine. Up until 1975, at least, this was the same source and aim (with some nuances) of all their language. Despite some modifications of language after that date, which marks their internal schism, it would be misleading to see the PMOI as the antithesis of an International Ultra Left.
This is a real programme shared by all the movements that claim to work for revolutionary political progressivism. Terror-Watch describes the key stages:
"The Marxist concept of revolution integrates terrorism as one °f its steps toward building an egalitarian society. The different Phases of that revolution can be summed up as follows:
The Marxist revolutionary process:
1 - Formation of a core group as the revolutionary base and creating subsidiary cells to spread the ideology.
2- Corroding the social order through strikes, demonstrations, riots, terrorism and sabotage.
3- Popular education and psychological preparation. Terrorism becomes guerrilla activity and training camps are set up.
4-New social structures are put in place in "liberated" zones, which are used as guerrilla bases.
5- Guerrilla warfare develops into people's war.
To carry through all of these revolutionary steps, the Mojahedin recruited, from the outset, young men and women who had broken away from the monarchist system.
The lack of any free space, the muzzling of all means of self expression, each a need for a single party system, as well as the systematic persecution of all opposition led to the creation of "an army of the shadows." (58)
"[Massoud Rajavi] was able to forge a political party which combined Islam and socialism in a secret and effective military organisation. This structure, with its iron discipline, could avoid the reach of the clerical authorities...". (59)
Dozens of militants organised subversion from their clandestine organisational base. Gerard Chaliand identifies the sociological origins of those who crossed the line and joined the ranks of such organisations:
"The most mobilisable elements are very often urbanized youth, partly intellectual and partly educated. They have lost their class standing and are at the margins. Without future prospects, they carry within themselves a latent discontent.
It is much more difficult to mobilise the most underprivileged. those without hopes for change and little inclination to take risks because of the dependency and misery with which they live. It is essential to create a middle level leadership.
The higher leadership group usually is in place. They are already in the decision making circle or among those intellectuals who will soon rally to the movement". (60)
In Iran, the young who joined the PM01 as soon as the Shah fell grew rapidly. They were swept along by the hope of building a different world. These sympathisers could take to the streets, demons¬trate, distribute pamphlets and organise logistics. How many of them would be willing to take up a rifle and coldly pull the trigger
to kill someone?
This was Iran dominated by an insurrectional climate. The repression would lash out blindly. This would unleash a real crisis in a society which was just beginning to find its way.
The regime, driven mad by the attacks of 1981 and by the ten¬sion which continued to threaten its rule, accelerated its campaign of arrests and executions. This would later help the PM01 to claim all these dead, despite the fact that they were really the result of a major governmental mistake.
History has kept memories of this dark period alive: "High school boys and girls were especially moved. Numerous young people of the petite and middle bourgeoisie were looking for their identity and absolute answers. They were attracted by the enthu¬siasm and radicalism of the Islamic extreme Left". (61)
The reaction's violence shows clearly the inexperience of those leadership groups who, after the revolution, took over the State. As we have already said, all revolutions "devour" their children.
Under the circumstances, the persecutions doubtless ate up those who were innocent, as well as militants who had no blood on their hands. They would, with the passage of time, surely change their social outlook.
This is a conclusion shared by specialists:
"The liquidation of the People's Mojahedin in 1980-1985 struck the young, boys and girls together, well beyond the ranks of the organisation. 'Why were there so many executions? Aren't these young people part of the people?' was a common question. This was a double denial of justice: the young persons, 'their family's flowers' would have had the time to learn and they came from the people". (62)
Unfortunately, the beginning of the Eighties was not a time for understanding or discussion. The massacre would weigh heavily on Teheran's relations on the international level. For years, they would serve as justification for the legitimacy of the Mojahedin's fight.
There is still an act of homage to be given to those who died so uselessly. Recognition should be given to their loved ones who were so deeply wounded. An official mea culpa is necessary to close the dichotomy within society, which is not fully healed from these repeated trauma.
"[The] repression [was even] more terrible and systematic than that meted out to the royalists. This time the fissure went right through the middle of families and within whole groups friends". (63) Today, the wounds are still raw.
51.- Digard, Hourcade and Richard, op. cit.
52.- "Iran: la revolution en guerre" - by Jacques Buob and Chris¬tian Hoche -L 'Express, 22 January 1982
53.- "Le coup d'Etat, strategic et tactique" - by Jean-Charles Saccona - L 'art de la guerre, April-May 2003
54.- "Iran : la revolution en guerre" - by Jacques Buob and Chris¬tian Hoche -L 'Express 22 January 1982
55.- Mourad, op. cit.
56.- Ahmad Ghoreishi et Dariush Zahedi, op. cit.
57.- "Democracy Betrayed", op. cit.
59.- Digard, Hourcade and Richard, op. cit.
60.- Gerard Chaliand, op. cit.
61.- Digard, Hourcade and Richard, op. cit.
62.- Thermidor en Iran - by Fariba Adelkhah - Paris, 1993
63.- Digard, Hourcade et Richard, op. cit.
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